Talking through music

As Facebook is as good a research site as any other, I wanted to share some insights about a video that’s been going around, “Man in Nursing Home Reacts to Hearing Music from his Era,” seen here.

The short documentary piece profiles Henry, a man in the later stages of Alzheimer’s who is usually “inert, maybe depressed, unresponsive,  and almost unalive” according to Dr. Oliver Sachs, a neuroscientist specializing in music and cognition, author of the book Musicophelia.  Using a music therapy approach, aided by an Iphone donation campaign, Dr. Sachs and his team yielded fascinating results about the influence of language on the mind.

After being played some of Henry’s favorite music from his youth, he became alive: tapping his feet, moving his arms, singing along “with a face that exudes expression,” Sachs says.  After that, Henry gives back the headphones and the workers proceed to ask him a couple questions.  Here again, the effects are salient.  A usually mute Henry begins to talk:

Q: Do you like music?

Henry: Of course I like music! I’m crazy about music- and you play beautiful music.  Good sounds.  Beautiful.

Q: Did you play music- did you like music when you were young?

Henry: Yes- yes! I went to the big dances and things..

Q: What was your favorite music when you were young?

Henry: ..w-w-well I guess, I guess you could say.. Cab Calloway was the number one guy that I liked.

Q: Well, what was your favorite Cab Calloway song?

Henry:  Well, I::ll be ho:me for Chri:stma:s… (goes on to sing a few verses with the most endearing vibratto)

You’re probably expecting some sort of micro-level discourse analysis at this point.  My only intention was to riff on a hunch inspired by this video:  the idea of music as interlocutor/discourse system/modality.  Was Henry’s mind tired of human interlocutors?  Did he need to “talk” to (and through) music to liven up his mind?

For more information on Dr. Sachs’ research on music and memory, to volunteer or donate iPods, visit: